The Australian Dance Theatre’s Objekt challenges our humanity

When we think of objects, we think of things. Isolated things that stand alone as ornamental beings, void of emotion and human correlation, or so we think. The Australian Dance Theatre’s Garry Stewart headed to Europe to create his latest work Objekt, collaborating with Germany’s tanzmainsz – the contemporary dance company of Staatsheatre Mainz, lead by its director Honne Dohrmann. Stewart along with his 12 dancers challenge our perceptions of what ‘objects’ truly are in this gripping and exhilarating contemporary dance production that had the crowd mesmerized from the get-go.

A larger than life shaped box stands before us as we sit in anticipation of what’s to come. Foreboding sounds emerge, setting the scene and pace of Objekt.  As peculiar figures dressed in head-to-toe lycra brace the stage in an eerie pattern, we are immediately reminded that Objekt is complex, with a profound symbolic undertone that is expressed through dynamic gestural yet controlled movements. Initially it all seems a little intense, perhaps frightening and otherworldly as the figures are stripped of their identity, their faces covered to heighten this ‘objectified’ quality. I was transported to a dystopian place, absurdly constructed to reflect our current socio-political reality.

Mass, geometry, space, volume and receptivity to forces like gravity make objects and humans relateable. We are drawn to others as well as pulled away, in a sense that evokes emotional response, longing and resistance. The objectification of humans lingers throughout the performance, as dominant figures almost battle against ‘others’. It’s a tug of war that has no end, evident by the ropes that reappear in a number of scenes. Bodies become objects; thrown about, pulled in and pushed out and constrained in harnesses attached to other bodies. Rectangular objects are carried onto the stage, robotically aligning the dancers in a systematic fashion. It’s a mirror-like reflection of our own mechanical way of life that is at war with human nature and the very things that make us human – consciousness, will, desire, cognition, emotion and subjectivity. In this heightened interpretation of the human condition, we are able to read between the lines and recognize that our behaviour toward another is similar to our treatment of objects. Objekt strives to convey how we cease to recognize others’ humanity, which in turn creates this domino affect.

Visual arts, dance and theatre form Objekt. The set design by Stewart combines aspects of geometry and installation art as the dancers engage with their surroundings in various scenes; hands reach out of man-made holes grasping at flailing bodies. All the while, a minimalism circulates to allow the figures to speak. Fluent costume design by Lucia Vonrhein sees both male and female dancers wearing brown and red leather dresses and patterned morphsuits to signify the universal notions that extend beyond gender or physical attributes. There are no boundaries and borders here.

The people are one, robotic and subjugated. By dressing the dancers in a uniformed manner, we are not taken to a specific time or place but are alerted to the timelessness that exists behind Objekt. The music by composer Brendan Woithe compliments this transcendental world that’s enhanced through atmospheric lighting by Avi Yona “Bambi” Bueno,  setting a threatening ambiance. As the performance progresses, we see a more emotionally fueled context that unravels a deeper side to each ‘being’ who is yearning to break free. Dramaturgist Johanna Milz undoubtedly plays a major role in the buildup of Objekt, making it such an engrossing work that is powered by a riveting urgency; a hypnotic pleasure to watch.


Image: Australian Dance Theatre FB

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